(TODAY'S GUEST: Re-joining us here at Jaman HQ, for the second time this week (!), is Rohan Morbey, who blogs at Stop Thinking For Yourself UK. Rohan has graciously allowed us to post his VERY disappointed review of Paul Schrader's The Canyons. We're always happy to welcome Rohan to Jaman HQ, and hope you will follow him on Twitter.)
If ever a film released this year should be able to sell itself on the reputation of its writer and director,
then The Canyons is that film. For me, this was a must-see movie event regardless of any negative publicity; my favourite novelist Bret Easton Ellis writing his first screenplay and Paul Schrader, a major force on the 70’s New Hollywood movement, on directing duties. Nothing could have prepared me for just how awful the final product would be.
The major flaw lies squarely at the feet of Ellis and his screenplay. The unsettling characters and sleazy world of trust fund wealth in Los Angeles he so perfectly created in novels like Less Than Zero and Imperial Bedrooms simply cannot be converted to the screen, just like the 2000 film version of American Psycho could touch the surface of Ellis’ 1991 masterpiece novel. The dialogue is flat, boring and meaningless without the narrative which his novels bring to similar unlikable, twisted characters such as the ones in this film. At around 90 minutes, the film quickly tests the patience and very quickly begins to drag; I could easily have turned the film off after 20 minutes but I was certain it could only get better with Ellis involved. I was wrong for it remained just as dull and lifeless by the end as it was at the start.
Made on a micro-budget of around $250,000 made up partially from a Kickstarter campaign, the film looks nothing like what you might expect from the director of American Gigolo and Affliction. This is not Schrader’s fault, but there is not much distancing this film from any well made film you could find on YouTube right now. One could argue that its cheap production captures the vapid, empty, moralless lives of the characters but to me it just looked cheap and tacky, utterly pointless and at no point remotely engaging.
Schrader does what he can with a screenplay which never translates to the screen and actors who give woefully poor performances, most notably Lindsay Lohan. Again, supporters of the film might say she is perfectly cast as she’s been through this real lifestyle before, but her performance is too empty and lifeless to ever be labelled professional; she has zero charisma and it shows in every scene. The real-life porno actor James Deen can be forgiven for his amateurish turn, and at least he shows some effort to make his character more than just a mouth to speak the dialogue.
For all its desire to be a sexy, erotic and chilling tale and a metaphor for the decline of cinema (the
characters are trying to get a film made) and the perils of fame-seeking, The Canyons is nothing better than those films you used to see on the bottom shelf in Blockbuster Video when ‘straight to video’ was a derisive term. If this film were made 10 years ago then it would have been placed on the lowest shelf available. Utter trash.